Making Supplier Diversity Work

By Milton Benjamin

One of the goals of diversity inclusion programs is to provide opportunities for diverse populations to succeed in achieving personal financial goals, including financial stability and the accumulation of assets. There are many types of diversity programs within organizations that help individuals reach their objectives, including recruitment programs, training and development opportunities, and mentoring, all of which help individuals grow within the organization.

Supplier diversity programs have the same ultimate goal of providing enhanced opportunities for diverse companies to grow and achieve economic success. The interesting thing about a successful supplier diversity program is that it not only helps an individual business owner achieve his or her goals, but there is a multiplier effect in that a successful company hires more people and helps a community become stronger economically. We have found that those purchasing organizations that are committed, build a supportive infrastructure, and monitor execution achieve success.

What is the business case for supplier diversity? Using diverse suppliers can bring innovation, competition, pricing that produces savings for purchasers and profitability for suppliers. The changing demographics of our region and our country demand economic participation in ways that afford growing minority populations opportunities to acquire assets and in turn feed the local economy. Strong minority companies also are the source of new leaders who give back in ways that further strengthen communities.

How do organizations develop a successful supplier diversity program? There are many ways to go about it. A supplier diversity program is successful when various levels of an organization are involved. Each area may have its own objectives for its part in the program, but it takes a coordinated approach so that all internal objectives are achieved. As with any goal, commitment, communication, measurement and a strong connection to suppliers are key attributes of a successful program. Commitment starts at the top; communication throughout the organization and with suppliers must be effective; training and mentoring have an important role; key measures and monitoring are critical.

How do organizations and suppliers come together? This question also has a number of answers that depend on who in the organization is driving the supplier diversity effort. Purchasing Managers have an essential role, as they are the ones who most often interface with suppliers, even if they do not make the ultimate buying decision. Front line managers who do make buying decisions also can connect directly to suppliers. In many organizations with strong commitments to supplier diversity, there are Supplier Diversity Managers who develop relationships with suppliers and make introductions to the front line purchasers. A supplier needs to know how a particular organization works in order to find the best connection to open doors.

INE plays a significant role in helping suppliers and organizations committed to supplier diversity meet their objectives. In our workshop on the 28th we will have a dialogue with participants about their questions on supplier diversity and provide some insights on best practices, making the business case for supplier diversity, and how we can help an organization with developing a supplier diversity program.

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